By Dr. Raymond J. Huntington
When it comes to academic achievement, there are all kinds of signs that spell success. Strong reading and mathematical skills are an obvious indicator, as are high test scores in core academic subjects ranging from English to history to the social studies. But another important factor is how well your child presents what he or she has learned. That means using correct grammar and writing without misspelling words. While most teachers work hard to develop spelling skills through classroom lessons, it’s important to focus on strengthening these skills through everyday activities at home. Here are some easy-to-follow suggestions:
Read and recognize what’s correct.
Children who read many published books and magazines are naturally exposed to the correct spelling of words. So in the early years, reading to your child is a good way to demonstrate how words look on the page. Reading independently is also valuable as your child develops reading skills.
Encourage children to write about their favorite subjects.
Writing and reading are two skills that involve “learning by doing,” and familiarity with words is critical to building awareness of their correct spellings. Children will write more if they’re focusing on their favorite topics, which will in turn help them become better spellers.
Create a weekly lesson.
Pick a letter-of-the-week and post it on the family bulletin board or refrigerator. Have your child come up with many different words during the week that start with that letter, and write them out on the bulletin board or another place with plenty of room.
Draw on the family tree.
Encourage your child to learn to spell the names of all family members, and to write notes and letters – or even emails – to family members. This will help build writing and reading skills as well. Read what your child has written and point out the misspelled words, and then work together to re-spell them until they are correct.
Help children learn how to recognize and correct mistakes.
Simply alerting a student that a word is misspelled and then revealing the correct spelling does not ensure that the word will be spelled correctly the next time the student uses it. To build long-term awareness, encourage your son or daughter to say the word out loud while looking at it carefully to match letters to sounds. Think of other words that use similar sounds and spell them out to determine if the letters are the right match. Let your child know when the correct spelling is reached – and then make sure the word is written several times to strengthen memory and recognition.
Set good examples.
Whether you’re filling out a grocery list, writing a list of chores on the bulletin board, inscribing birthday cards or sending a note to your child’s teacher, take care to make sure you’re spelling and using words correctly. This will model the kind of spelling success you expect from your child.
Get expert advice.
The enormous importance of reading and spelling has sparked a large body of books dedicated to alphabet and vocabulary skills, particularly among young children. Your child’s teacher and the school librarian should be well-equipped to recommend books that are the most popular, engaging and effective at building these skills.
Encourage careful editing.
At home and at school, students should develop a habit of reviewing their work before it’s handed in. This means careful proofreading, and double-checking the spelling of words when there is a question as to whether they’re spelled correctly. You can help develop this habit by ensuring your child knows how to use a dictionary, and by keeping one close at hand in the space you set aside for your child’s homework.
Make it challenging and fun…
by playing one of the many games, such as Boggle, Scrabble or Hangman, that require winners to be good spellers. Encourage your child to do crossword puzzles and other word games build spelling and vocabulary skills.
While good grades may seem like the most pressing reason for developing strong spelling skills, keep in mind that good spellers have a clear advantage when it comes to representing their abilities in other areas as well. From book reports to college application essays to resumes and employment cover letters, misspellings can be a jarring obstruction to the ability to “show what you know.” Likewise, a broad vocabulary and solid spelling skills will help your child spell success for years to come.
Dr. Raymond J. Huntington and Eileen Huntington are co-founders of Huntington Learning Center, which has helped children achieve success in school for 26 years. For more information about how Huntington can help your child, call 1 800 CAN LEARN.